On Nov. 21, 2016, 23-year-old Rodriguez Montez Burks (pictured above) started serving a two to 10 year prison sentence at Alger County Correctional Facility in northern Michigan for stealing a 2012 Audi Q5 car and then eluding police on a suspended driver’s license. Eight months later, Burks died in his cell, allegedly murdered by his homophobic cellmate, after both men had asked prison officials to separate them.
Both cellmates had reportedly made repeated requests to be moved
According to Todd Wentwort, one of Burks’ neighboring cellmates, Burks’ bunkmate had repeatedly asked guards for a new cell assignment, allegedly saying, “Hey, I am not gonna be locked in here with a fag.” Wentworth says that the guard responded with something like, “It’s not our problem.”
Burks’ previous cellmate had been gay, Wentworth claims, and that Burks’ new cellmate had been transferred from a maximum security facility two days before Burks’ death. The cellmate was reportedly serving time for armed robbery, carjacking and assault with intent to murder
Another neighboring inmate named Edward Spear claimed to have heard Burks’ cellmate tell a guard, “Look, I’m gonna hurt this guy if you don’t move me out this cell.” Spear claims that Burks told another prison staff member, “I can’t lock with this guy; we’re having issues, we can’t do this.”
An allegedly bloody death
The morning of Burks’ death, Wentworth says, Burks and his new cellmate asked the unit manager for a change during her morning visit to the unit. Wentworth claims that the unit manager replied with, “You’re not here for convenience…. This ain’t the Holiday Inn.”
On July 20, 2017, the Michigan Department of Corrections declared Burks dead in his own cell. Though the corrections officers haven’t released the exact cause of death, Burks’ two neighboring cellmates told the Detroit Metro Times that they believe he was strangled, though they also report seeing “streaks of blood on the floor and heard medics describing puncture wounds to the young man’s lungs.”
Burks had nine months until he was eligible for parole.
LGBTQ inmates face violence from both prisoners and guards
A 2014 survey found that LGBTQ prisoners were physically assaulted four times more likely than heterosexual and cisgender inmates.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said that the internal affairs department would conduct a full investigation. Inmates told the Detroit Metro Times that prisoner complaints and requests often go ignored or lead to retaliation from prison staff, a belief shared by the prison reform advocacy group Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity.